Godly Anger Versus Selfish Anger

“[Love] is not provoked” (1 Cor. 13:5).

Self-centered anger cannot coexist with love.

The great eighteenth-century preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. When a young man asked Dr. Edwards for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he said no. The young man was crushed. “But I love her and she loves me,” he pleaded. “That makes no difference,” Edwards replied, “she isn’t worthy of you.” “But she is a Christian, isn’t she,” the young man argued. “Yes,” said Edwards, “but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.”

That may seem harsh, but Jonathan Edwards knew what his would-be son-in-law hadn’t yet learned: the presence of selfish anger indicates the absence of genuine love. “Love,” said Paul, “is not provoked.” It isn’t given to sudden outbursts of emotion or action. It doesn’t respond in anger to offenses committed against it.

Paul wasn’t talking about anger over sin and its terrible consequences. That’s righteous indignation, which Christians are expected to have. When Jesus drove the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:14-15), He was genuinely angry because His Father’s house was being desecrated. But He never reacted that way when He was personally attacked or maligned. In the same way, it’s right for you to be angry when others are mistreated, when God is offended, or when His Word is misrepresented. But love always bears up under personal attacks.

Such graciousness is foreign to our society, which teaches us to fight for our personal rights and retaliate when we don’t get what we think we deserve. That has produced greedy and loveless people who want little more than personal success and comfort. Anyone who dares to stand in their way is in danger of incurring their wrath.

As a Christian, you must resist such influences by focusing on your spiritual duty rather than your rights. If you expect nothing from the world, you won’t be angered or disappointed when nothing comes. Remember, God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). So humble yourself before Him and He will exalt you at the proper time (James 4:10).

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God for the grace to forgive those who wrong you.

For Further Study

  • According to Ephesians 4:26-27, how should you deal with anger?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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The Generosity of Love

“[Love] does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5).

Love transforms selfish people into self-sacrificing people.

From the time of Adam and Eve, replacing God with self has been at the root of all sin. Our first parents had only one restriction: “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But Eve believed the serpent’s lie that God was trying to keep her from realizing her full potential (Gen. 3:5). She ate the forbidden fruit, gave some to Adam, and together they plunged the human race into sin and death.

Christ changed all that when He came, not “to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Unlike Adam and Eve, He didn’t seek His own comfort or gain, but made whatever sacrifices were necessary to redeem lost sinners.

It is reported that the inscription on a tombstone in a small English cemetery reads,

Here lies a miser who lived for himself, And cared for nothing but gathering wealth. Now where he is or how he fares, Nobody knows and nobody cares.
How tragic to spend your entire life enslaved to your selfishness. In contrast, a tombstone in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads, “Sacred to the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.” The first tombstone testifies to the futility of greed and selfishness; the second to the glory of generosity and self-sacrifice.

Christ is the perfect example of self-sacrifice. If you love Him, you should be characterized by the same quality. Then others will see your genuineness and commitment to them, and by God’s grace be drawn to your Lord.

What epitaph might your family and friends write about you? I pray it is one that glorifies God for the selfless love He demonstrated through you.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for those who have made significant sacrifices toward your spiritual growth. Seek to imitate their love.

For Further Study

  • List the fifteen qualities of love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, then determine how self-sacrifice relates to each one.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Becoming an Effective Minister

“Love . . . is not arrogant” (1 Cor. 13:4).

Love is the key to effective ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4 Paul says, “Love does not brag and is not arrogant.” We often equate bragging and arrogance, but in this passage there is a subtle difference. The Greek word translated “brag” emphasizes prideful speech or actions; “arrogant” emphasizes the attitude of pride motivating those actions.

The prideful attitudes of the Corinthians were evident in several areas. In 1 Corinthians 4:18-21 Paul says, “Some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. . . . What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:18- 21). Apparently, some thought they no longer needed his instruction. “After all,” they reasoned, “we’ve had the best teachers—Apollos, Peter, and even Paul himself (1 Cor. 1:12)—so what need do we have for more instruction?” The fact was, they had just enough knowledge to inflate their egos, but they were woefully ignorant of love (1 Cor. 8:1).

It was arrogance that led the Corinthian church to condone gross immorality: “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife [incest]. And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst” (1 Cor. 5:1- 2). They were too prideful to confront and correct that situation, so they bragged about it instead. Even pagans wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior!

That’s a tragic picture of people so blinded by pride that they refused to discern between good and evil. Consequently, all their spiritual activities were counterproductive. They were gifted by the Spirit and even flaunted their gifts, but lacked the love that transforms a gifted person into an effective minister.

Learn from the Corinthians’ mistakes. Never settle for mere spiritual activities. Let love motivate everything you do. Then God can honor your ministries and make them truly effective for His purposes.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Ask God to make you a more effective minister and to protect you from the blindness of arrogance.

For Further Study

  • What do the following proverbs say about pride: Proverbs 8:13; 11:2; and 29:23?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Exalting Others

“Love does not brag” (1 Cor. 13:4).

Love exalts others; pride exalts self.

Most of us shy away from people who have an inflated view of themselves or place themselves at the center of every conversation. Yet perhaps you too struggle with the temptation to spend most of your conversations talking about yourself. Even if you would never openly brag about yourself, might you at times secretly resent others for not acknowledging your accomplishments? That’s the subtlety of pride.

Boasting always violates love because it seeks to exalt itself at the expense of others—to make itself look good while making others look inferior. It incites jealousy and other sins. Sadly, boasting exists even in the church. That’s why Paul exhorted us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, “but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). The context of that statement is spiritual gifts, which can lead to pride if not governed by humility and love.

The Corinthians were spiritual show-offs—each vying for attention and prominence. Consequently their worship services were chaotic. First Corinthians 14:26 says, “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.” Apparently they all were expressing their spiritual gifts at the same time with no regard for anyone else. That’s why Paul concluded, “Let all things be done for edification.”

Their lack of love was obvious because people who truly love others don’t exalt themselves. They regard others as more important than themselves, just as Christ did when He humbled Himself and died for our sins (Phil. 2:3-8).

Boasting about our spiritual gifts is absurd because we did nothing to earn them. They don’t reflect our capabilities; they reflect God’s grace. That’s why Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). That applies to physical capabilities as well as spiritual enablements. Everything you have is a gift from God. Therefore, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Each day acknowledge your total dependence on God’s grace.
  • Praise Him for the gifts He has entrusted to you.

For Further Study

  • Note what God has to say about haughtiness in Proverbs 6:16-17; 16:18; 18:12; 21:3-4; and 21:24.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Overcoming Jealousy

“Love . . . is not jealous” (1 Cor. 13:4).

Jealousy thrives in a climate of selfish ambition.

Jealousy is an insidious sin that cries out, “I want what you have, and furthermore, I don’t want you to have it.” It replaces contentment with resentment and spawns a myriad of other sins.

The Corinthians, in truth, were jealous of one another’s spiritual gifts. First Corinthians 12:31 literally says, “You are earnestly desiring the showy gifts, but I show you a more excellent way.” The word translated “earnestly desiring” is translated “jealous” in 1 Corinthians 13:4. It means “to boil” and speaks of the inner seething that comes from wanting something that someone else has. In 1 Corinthians 3:3 Paul rebukes them for the jealousy and strife that existed among them.

Paul knew what it meant to be victimized by jealous people. During one of his imprisonments he candidly wrote, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15-17).

Paul’s attitude toward those who envied him was exemplary: “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice” (v. 18). He wasn’t motivated by personal comfort or selfish ambition. He loved Christ deeply and wanted as many people as possible to hear the gospel. As long as Christ was being proclaimed, Paul was happy—regardless of his own circumstances or the motives of others. That should be your perspective too.

Love is the antidote for jealousy. When godly love governs your heart, you can rejoice in the spiritual successes of others, even when you know their motives are wrong. But if you seek prominence and selfish gain, you become an easy target for jealousy and resentment.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Confess any jealousy you might be harboring toward others.
  • Ask God to deepen your love for Christ so jealousy can’t gain a foothold in your heart in the future.

For Further Study

  • Read 2 Corinthians 11:2. Is there such a thing as godly jealousy? Explain.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Showing Kindness

“Love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).

Kindness repays evil with good.

Two men going opposite directions on a narrow mountain trail met each other head on. With a steep cliff on one side and sheer rock on the other, they were unable to pass. The harder they tried to squeeze past one another the more frustrated they became. The situation seemed hopeless until one of them, without saying a word, simply laid down on the trail, allowing the other man to walk over him. That illustrates kindness, which doesn’t mind getting walked on if it benefits someone else.

The Greek word translated “kind” in 1 Corinthians 13:4 literally means “useful,” “serving,” or “gracious.” It isn’t simply the sweet attitude we usually associate with kindness; it’s the idea of being useful to others. It’s the flip side of patience. Patience endures abuses from others; kindness repays them with good deeds.

God committed the supreme act of kindness when He provided salvation for lost sinners. Titus 3:3-5 says, “We also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”

Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matt. 11:29-30). The word translated “easy” is translated “kind” in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Jesus was saying, “Trust in Me and I’ll redeem you and show you My kindness.”

Since “you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Pet. 2:3), you should be anxious to show kindness to others. That’s what Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to do. He knew they had the capacity, but they needed to repent of their selfish ways and allow love to dominate their lives.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • The evil world in which we live gives abundant opportunity for you to express kindness to others. Ask the Lord to help you take full advantage of every opportunity to do so today.

For Further Study

  • Read Matthew 5:38-48, noting the practical expressions of kindness Jesus instructed His followers to pursue.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Winning Through Non-Retaliation

“Love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4).

Love does not retaliate.

We usually think of patience as the ability to wait or endure without complaint—whether it’s with people or circumstances. But the Greek word translated “patience” in 1 Corinthians 13:4 refers specifically to patience with people. It literally means “to be long tempered,” and speaks of one who could easily retaliate when wronged but chooses not to.

That kind of patience is a spiritual virtue reflective of God Himself (cf. Gal 5:22). It can’t be duplicated on a purely human level. But for Christians, it’s to be a way of life. Paul said, “I . . . entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2).

God Himself is the supreme example of patience. Peter said, “[He] is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Those who reject His grace are despising “the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience” (Rom. 2:4).

In the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day, retaliating for a personal insult or injury was considered a virtue. Non- retaliation was interpreted as a sign of weakness. Our society is much the same. Our heroes tend to be those who fight back with physical strength or litigation. But that isn’t God’s perspective, nor was it Christ’s in praying for His killers, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

As you consider your own patience, remember that retaliation isn’t always blatant and forceful. It’s often subtle—like withholding affection from your spouse when he or she has wronged you, or withdrawing from a friend who has hurt you. But godly love never retaliates. It cares more for the feelings of others than for its own.

Remember the Lord’s patience toward you, and allow His Spirit to produce similar patience in you.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • If you are harboring resentment toward someone who has wronged you, confess it to the Lord and do everything you can to reconcile with that person.

For Further Study

  • Read Genesis 50:15-21.
  • What fear did Joseph’s brothers have?
  • How did Joseph react to their plea for forgiveness?
  • How did God use the brothers’ sin to accomplish His own purposes?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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